Another round of negotiations between Israel and Syria got under way this week amid calls from the American mediators for both sides to begin making compromises necessary for settlement.
Israel seemed open to the American appeal, which was issued by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said, “The United States hopes for very serious, productive and comprehensive discussions on all the issues that are currently separating Syria and Israel.”
The new round of talks started up Wednesday at the Wye Plantation in eastern Maryland. The current talks, which include military experts from both sides, were expected to focus on security issues.
Water normalization of ties and economic matters were also expected to come up.
Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak reportedly told Christopher and U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, that Israel may be willing to drop its demand for ground-based early-warning stations on the Golan Heights.
However, Barak stressed that such a concession would be dependent upon a full security package designed to prevent a Syrian surprise attack, even if Israel withdrew from the Golan Heights.
In Damascus, the mood was generally optimistic about the resumption of talks, with the held of the Syrian news agency calling the negotiations a “golden chance” for peace.
Syria also urged the Jewish state to withdraw from the Golan Heights.
In Jerusalem, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu said his party, if it came to power, would never cede the Golan Heights.
He also denied claims that he had secret contacts with Syria, calling them a “big bluff.”
The charge emerged from an Israel Radio report on an exchange that reportedly took place between Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Netanyahu during a closed- door session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Peres reportedly accused Netanyahu of being afraid to talk about the Golan because of the elections, but being ready to withdraw from the region.
Netanyahu responded that Israel has the Golan not only for security, but the flourishing settlements, developing industry, tourism and water.
The talks, under the direction of U.S. Middle East peace envoy Dennis Ross, were expected to last through the middle of next week, and were to be followed by a shuttle to the region by Christopher.